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Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part one.


  • Screenwriting lessons from a Hollywood manager, part one.

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ID:	91628Like me, there are many unsold screenwriters out there struggling to rise above the din. And there are many, many sources of information on screenplay format, structure, character, dialogue, etc. I've read/seen a bunch of them and it's all good stuff.

    I was fortunate enough to receive an offer of representation from a Los Angeles-based manager. This is all well and good, but, as the writer, the onus remains on me to create something marketable. As a former development executive for Sony Pictures, my manager has a keen sense of what makes something marketable, and spends a great deal of time nit-picking my scripts, finding the smallest details that require attention.

    He does not tell me what to write, nor how to write it. He doesn't edit the material or correct typos. He signed me as a client because I'd already demonstrated my screenwriting prowess. But, over the years, he has given me nuts-and-bolts feedback from his unique perspective working at the studio level, which I have yet to see printed in any book. I'll endeavor to share some of that in this blog.

    Let's begin with the first screenplay my manager shopped for me. It was an action/thriller set in the world of the U.S. Coast Guard, and it was the script that first attracted him to my work. After helping me polish it up, he sent it around to 30 production companies with studio deals. These are the biggest of the big -- names I guarantee you've heard.

    Unbeknownst to me, there were no fewer than three Coast Guard action/thriller projects already in active development at that time: a feature at Disney, a movie at another studio, and a TV series that Wolfgang Petersen was developing. Since the script was already finished, my manager sent it out anyway, knowing we faced some stiff competition. There was a lot of interest in the script from several producers, but with so much similar material in the pipeline the studios declined to option it.

    Therein lay the first lesson: timing is everything. Even with first class material, if it's not the right time for it, it's dead-in-the-water (pun intended). My timing for that particular genre was awful. There was no way I could have known that when I began writing, but all my subsequent ideas were researched by my manager before anything was committed to paper, to make certain that particular snafu didn't repeat itself.

    Of those three studio projects, only one - the Disney feature - was ultimately produced: the Kevin Costner film The Guardian. When it was released my manager observed that there were three potential outcomes, two of which were favorable and one that was not.

    The best outcome was if The Guardian became a smash hit. Everyone would immediately start looking for another Coast Guard action/thriller script and we'd be at the head of the line.

    The next best scenario would be if The Guardian immediately tanked at the box office, quickly disappeared and was forgotten before anyone paid any attention.

    The worst that could happen was The Guardian would do mediocre business, linger for a while at the box office, then fade away. This, of course, is exactly what happened. My script would receive no second lease on life. Welcome to the frustrating world of writing for the studios.

    Related - Screenwriting Lessons Part 2
    Related - Screenwriting Lessons Part 3
    Related - Screenwriting Lessons Part 4
    Related - Screenwriting Lessons Part 5

    • SamuelR74
      SamuelR74 commented
      Editing a comment
      As soon as you mentioned "The Guardian" I sighed. Good concept just bad dialogue.
    Posting comments is disabled.



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